Top Tips for Marathon Monster Month

If you (like me) are following a standard kind of 16-week raining plan for the London Marathon (or indeed any other marathon at around the same time) you’re probably now just into what’s known in running circles as ‘Monster Month’ – the four week period where you do your hardest block of work, before you start to taper. It’s a time when you can build on the previous nine weeks of training to give yourself a bit of a beasting before you start to back off a bit in the three week run-up to the big day.

It’s also a time when you might think either a) “I’m starting to feel really good now” or b) “Why in the wide world of sport did I ever sign up for this?” I’ve done quite a few cycles of marathon training now, and I’ve felt both ways at various points! But I haven’t run a road marathon since London last year, so feeling I’m slightly nervous about this year. I’m not a running  expert by any means, but I have learnt that Monster Month is a time when you have to look after yourself if you want to make it to race day feeling on top form. So here are my top tips for surviving it!

Listen to your body and don’t be a complete slave to your training plan. If you pick up a niggle or feel ill, don’t try to push on through just because the plan says you have to run today. Better to take a couple of days off than have to give up completely because you aggravated something by ignoring it. Nobody gets through a whole plan without missing a few sessions – that’s just life.

If you do have a niggle that doesn’t go away after a couple of days, or gets worse when you run, see a physio. They’ll probably be able to help you find a way to manage it if it’s not serious. The longer you leave it and the worse it gets, the harder it will be to deal with.

Look after your immune system. Hard training puts a huge strain on it, and will make you more susceptible to any bugs floating around. I sometimes take an Omega 3 supplement after a long Sunday run for its anti-inflammatory properties. If I feel like I might be coming down with something I take some immune-boosting echinacea. Pay attention to hand hygiene too, which is how most bugs get passed on.

Get plenty of sleep. Sleepy time is when your body can rest and recover from all the stress you’ve put on it in training.

Look after your feet – they deserve a bit of pampering. I absolutely love the Body Shop’s Peppermint Intensive Foot Rescue Cream. And if you have any issues with your shoes, sort them out now – don’t wait til two weeks before the event to get new ones!

Eat well – plenty of protein, good carbs and lots of fruit and veggies. This really will help to fuel your training and recovery. Monster Month isn’t a time to diet, but neither is it an excuse to eat lots of junk, especially if you’re looking to lose a few pounds. Although I do like a bit of cake after my long Sunday run!

Keep booze to a minimum; it makes more difference than you might think, even if you don’t feel hung over. I know from personal experience this can be hard if you have the sort of friends who think it’s weird not to drink alcohol when you go out, but it really is worth it. I find if I drink on Friday and/or Saturday I don’t run as well on Sunday. Although I do like a glass of red with my post-run Sunday dinner. Well it’s got antioxidants, hasn’t it?!

Get a sports massage halfway through the month if you can. Your legs will deserve and appreciate it! And make sure you do plenty of stretching and foam rolling – but not too hard with the roller.

Most of all, enjoy it! I always think an event is as much about the training as the big day itself. Embrace the challenge and be proud of what you’re doing, especially if it’s your first time. Don’t look upon a long run as punishment. Get your tunes going (if you like) and settle in for the ride.

Monster Month is also a great time to experiment with different running fuels. The more I run long distances, the more convinced I am that keeping well fuelled is as important as training to success. Obviously different things work well for different people. Personally I’m happy to eat ‘real’ food in an ultra, when I’m running slowly, but I can’t do that in a faster road marathon. I used to always take Clif Shot Bloks in marathons, but struggled to eat them at London last year, and I think that’s why I slowed down near the end and didn’t quite hit my four hour target. This year I’m planning to take gels, although I’m not sure which ones yet. I like SiS isotonic gels, but find them really difficult to open on the run. Last weekend I tried an OTE gel, which was much easier to open and  tasted good, so I might take those – but I’ll try some others in training first. One thing’s for sure, nailing your nutrition will definitely help you to avoid the dreaded Wall!

Do you have any top tips for Monster Month? I’d love to hear them. Good luck with it anyway!




Running Update and London Marathon Training

I’m now halfway through my training plan for the London Marathon, so this seems a good time to take stock of where I am with my running at the moment.

After being injured for most of the second half of last year, I’ve only been back to what I’d term ‘proper’ running since I started marathon training on New Year’s Day (appropriately!). I usually follow an Asics Sub 4 plan, which has served me well in the past, and resulted in a sub 4 time twice; but coming back from injury I felt I should be a bit cautious and follow my beginner’s training plan, which is from Women’s Running magazine. However, I have been mixing things up a bit between the two. Possibly not the most scientific way to train, but it gives me options depending on how I’m feeling. I think it’s important to listen to your body when you’ve been injured to avoid a relapse, and bar the odd twinge I seem to be OK so far – fingers firmly crossed!

Despite turbo training, I definitely lost some cardio fitness and put on a few pounds while I was injured, so I’m trying to fix that in the run-up to London. I’ve done a few great events in January and February, which I think have definitely helped me to get a bit fitter and stronger; the Temple Newsam Ten, the Hardmoors Saltburn Half (a killer!) and the Harewood House Half – all hilly courses that I hope are building leg strength as well as fitness. I’m also paying a bit more attention to my diet, cutting out snacks and wine – well mostly anyway!

To help prevent my ankle injury returning as my mileage increases, I’ve invested in some super-cushiony road shoes – Hoka Claytons. They’re very different to my usual Brooks Pure Cadence in that they’re really bouncy, but they have a similarly small drop so have been easy to adapt to. I’ve always been put off maximal shoes in the past as I thought they’d make me look like an ageing Spice Girl(!), but I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised at how light and comfy they feel. Hopefully they’ll serve me well though marathon training and London.

I don’t have any more events on the cards until the end of March, when I’m doing the Daffodil Dash, organised by It’s Grim Up North Running. This is a great event held at Temple Newsam, where you can choose to do up to four laps of the course, with four laps being marathon distance. I’ve taken the 20 mile (three lap) option, as my training plan has a three hour run on it that weekend anyway, so it seemed a great way to do that run off-road in beautiful surroundings with support en route. And last year there was a fab goody bag too!

If you’re training for a spring marathon I hope it’s going well. I’d like to have a crack sub 4 (Good For Age) again at London, especially as I didn’t quite manage it last year, finishing in 4:05; but as I’m not at my best it currently seems a bit optimistic. I guess I’ll just have to see how I feel in a few weeks’ time. Never say never!



Race Review – Hardmoors Saltburn Half Marathon 2018

I did my first Hardmoors event, the Wainstones Half, last summer and really enjoyed it. When I entered Hardmoors Saltburn I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to run it, as I was still suffering with my ankle tendon problems after Race to the Stones; but Hardmoors events are very popular – if you don’t act quickly when entry opens you don’t get in – so I took a chance, and I’m very glad I did.

The Hardmoors trail races take place throughout the year and usually feature a 10K, a half marathon and a full marathon. They’re famed for being tough and a bit longer than the standard distances – but that’s all part of the fun! On this occasion I’d gone for the half, as I knew I wouldn’t be fit enough at this point to tackle a hilly marathon. There was quite a bit of rain in the couple of days beforehand, so we were warned to be prepared for muddy conditions. The weather on race day was cold and windy, but gloriously sunny – unlike last year, when conditions were apparently Baltic! I was prepared for a tough day out, as I’m far from fully fit at the moment, but knew it would be great marathon training.

The races started and finished at Saltburn Leisure Centre, which also offered a good place to shelter from the biting wind before setting off. There is a mandatory kit list for the half and full marathons, and kit is checked and approved before you can pick up your race number. Spot checks apparently also take place at the end, so don’t think you can check in and then leave half your stuff in the car! The marathon started at 9 am, with the half at 10 and the 10K at 10.30.

We started with a pleasant trot through the Valley Gardens in Saltburn, then it was down to the sea front before the first climb up Cat Nab. Everyone walked this! Up on the cliff top – the Cleveland Way – the view was spectacular, with super-blue sky and sea; and the wind wasn’t too bad, coming from the right hand side.

At this point I felt hopeful that I might finish in about three hours, as the Wainstones half had taken me about 3:15. But the path gradually turned very muddy underfoot, and stayed that way for most of the race. It was quite deep and wet in places, really taking a lot of energy to get through and slowing us all down. There were some grassy and Tarmac sections, but the real challenge of the day turned out to be remaining upright. Somehow I managed not to end up on my backside, but it was a close call a few times!

After nearly 5 miles the route went downhill into the village of Skinningrove, where the first checkpoint was. There were three checkpoints along the way, each stocked with water, Coke, jelly sweets, peanuts and marshmallows – which are now my new favourite race food, by the way, so easy to eat! There were also Jaffa Cakes at the final checkpoint. After Skinningrove there was a huge climb that seemed to go on forever. Everyone I could see was walking this one too. I imagine only the top athletes ran it! Proper leg-busting stuff. At around the halfway point the route left the Cleveland Way and turned inland (although we could still see the sea in places) and we started to head back towards Saltburn along a path called Cleveland Street. We were now running into a headwind, which made things even harder! A few of us took a slight detour just before the second checkpoint, having missed one of the yellow markers – probably about half a mile in all – but in general the course is very well marked and marshalled, and all the marshals were lovely and encouraging.

There were ups and downs in the last few miles of the route, but nothing like the two big climbs in the first half. We approached Saltburn through the village of Skelton, and then headed back to the Leisure Centre with a climb up and down Valley Gardens again. We ran right into the sports hall to finish, where our times were clocked at the desk. My official time was 3:29:43 (including the little detour!) and I was 101st out of 187 finishers. I was fairly pleased with that, considering I’ve only really been running properly again since about Christmas. There was a great medal, and as a bonus the t-shirt is in my favourite colour!

There was some food provided at the end, but it wasn’t up to much. Maybe it would have been better if I’d finished quicker, but there were just a few cheese sarnies and some little bits of cake by the time I got there. But hey, it’s not about the food – Hardmoors events in general seem to be great value for money and well organised. I’ve already signed up for two more events later this year: the White Horse marathon in June and the Rosedale one in August. Entry for the Hardmoors 60 in September opens soon and I’m so, so tempted to enter, as I seem to have overcome my injury now (touch wood).

This was a tough but fab day, and (considering how much my legs hurt the next day) great  marathon preparation. Onwards to London!


Race Review – Temple Newsam Ten 2018

Happy new running year – hope yours is going well so far! My running year started with Week 1 of training for the London Marathon. Having been injured for pretty much the whole of the second half of last year, and not doing nearly as much running as usual, I feel distinctly unfit coming into this and am still unable to run much on Tarmac due to my tendonitis, but I’m giving it a go for now, as I can feel some improvement. I’m still doing all my runs on either the treadmill or trails for now, which isn’t exactly great preparation for a road event! I’ll see how things progress over the next few weeks and will defer my London place if necessary, as I don’t want to go there to just pootle round.

Normally the Brass Monkey Half Marathon would be my first event of the year, but last Sunday I had ten easy miles on my marathon schedule, so the Temple Newsam Ten on the same day seemed like a perfect training exercise. It was the first time I’d done any event – or indeed run up and down any hills – for about three months, so I rocked up with no expectations other than to plod round and enjoy it.


The TNT is organised by Leeds-based St Theresa’s Athletics Club. There are about 1,000 places available and the event was sold out. For those not familiar with Temple Newsam, it’s a country estate between Leeds and York consisting of a 17th century house set in around 1,500 acres of parkland including gardens landscaped by Capability Brown – a fabulous location to stage a race. Even though it’s about a half hour drive from where I live I do sometimes go and run there, as the undulating trails make for great training. However, because I’m horribly navigationally challenged I usually run an ‘out and back’ route, so was looking forward to running a ten mile circular route with direction along the way.

Running at Temple Newsam last year


Race day weather was dry but cold, with a nasty chilly wind. The event starts at the very civilised time of 9.30, and there is plenty of parking on site. Race numbers are picked up on the day, and I was a bit concerned when I saw the length of the queue for this, but luckily it moved very quickly. The toilet queue wasn’t bad either considering we were just using the estate facilities rather than portable race loos. With both of these important duties out of the way I retired to the car to keep warm until about ten minutes before kick off; fortunately I’d managed to park very close to the start/finish area. At the start I met a couple of women I’d only previously known ‘virtually’, so it was great to meet them in the flesh and have a quick chat.

The route sets off round a huge flat, grassy area in front of the big house, then winds its way around the estate, with a mixture of trail, grass and a few short bits of Tarmac. The first couple of miles are pretty easy, then things get steadily harder. There are some stretches of single track, so don’t bank on gunning for a PB here unless you’re at the front, but as I was just using this for training I wasn’t bothered, and chatted to some lovely folk en route. There are a couple of long, draggy hills in the second half and a short, cruel one just half a mile from the finish. I’d made the mistake of wearing my Hardmoors t-shirt, and some random spectator shouted at me “Come on Hardmoors, this isn’t a hill to you!”. Harsh but fair – I was a lot fitter when I earned that t-shirt last summer!

The many course marshals were all cheerful and enthusiastic, and St Theresa’s had also provided ‘run buddies’ near the end, who offered support and encouragement as people started to flag – a great idea. There was just one water point at around halfway, but it was such a cold day we didn’t really need any more. I was pretty slow, averaging just over ten minute miles, but considering the terrain and my current state of fitness I was happy with that. At least I had plenty of time to admire the scenery!

There was a great knapsack-style goody bag at the finish, containing a really nice technical t-shirt and a fab medal (bling lovers take note), as well as crisps, chocolate and Haribo. I really like the TNT motto – Tough Not Timid! The whole event was well-organised and brilliant value and I’d highly recommend it. You have to get in early if you want to take part though, as it sells out fast. I’ll definitely be back next year!

Running Review of 2017

This has definitely been a year of highs and lows for me in running terms. I planned for my main events of 2017 to be the London Marathon, Race to the Stones 100K and the Leeds Abbey Dash 10K.

I followed my usual Asics Sub 4 training plan for London. I wasn’t massively bothered about achieving sub 4, as I’d already done that, gaining a Good For Age time in the process, at the Yorkshire Marathon in October 2016. However, on the day I had a good crack at it, but struggled to take on fuel in the second half and paid the price, coming in at 4:05. It was still an amazing day though. You can read my review of London here.

Race to the Stones in July was EPIC! Having only ever run half of that distance before, I had absolutely no idea how it would pan out. It was hard work towards the end, but I was satisfied with my time of 13:36 and amazed to be third V50 woman. My review of RTTS is here. I also raised £1,000 for Cancer Research UK; you can read why I was running for them here.

During training for these two goals I took part in a few events for fun; The Temple Newsam 10, Brass Monkey Half Marathon, Harewood House Half, Temple Newsam  Daffodil Dash and the Hardmoors Wainstones Half. I also ran up and down as many big hills as I could on holiday in France in June as training for RTTS!

So those were the highs. Unfortunately since RTTS I’ve been suffering with tendonitis in my ankles – tibialis posterior to be exact – so the second half of the year has been a bit less exciting! I shuffled round the Run For All York 10K in August and did the Cancer Research UK Tough 10 in Leeds as I was an ambassador for the event; but I also had to miss a couple of events I’d really been hoping to do, like the Yorkshire 10 Mile in September and the Leeds Abbey Dash. I’d really been hoping to knock a few seconds off my 10K PB there to go under 50 minutes for the first time, but it wasn’t to be this year. For the last few months I’ve been in rehab, doing some turbo training on the bike and yoga as well as some short runs. I’m now at the stage where I can run OK on grass or the treadmill, but stepping onto Tarmac seems to set my ankles off again. I’m really missing running longer distances at the moment!

So what’s on the agenda for next year? I have a Good For Age place in the London Marathon – but will I be able to train for it if I can’t run on the road? I guess I might have to defer, which would be disappointing – I want to run London with Mo! I’ve entered the Hardmoors Saltburn Half in February and also their White Horse Marathon in June, as well as the Snowdonia Marathon in October – all trail events. I would really love to do another ultra next year, but first need to work out how to do that without getting injured again. More strength work? Different shoes? I’m thinking of consulting a podiatrist for advice. I have enough UTMB points from RTTS to enter the ballot for the OCC, the (relatively) short race that’s part of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc festival in August. The course looks brutal but beautiful! I’m considering it, but only have a short time to decide.

So things are a bit up in the air for me at the moment. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see how things develop over the next couple of months. I hope 2017 has been a good year for you. Happy Christmas and happy running in 2018!